Monday, December 28, 2009

The Decade in Apologies

The Decade in Apologies

Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker apologizes for dissing New Yorkers.

George Bush kinda sorta apologizes to China, in the wake of China’s interceptor colliding with an American spy plane.

Trent Lott apologizes for praising Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Presidential run.
Saddam Hussein apologizes for invading Kuwait.
Cardinal Bernard Law apologizes to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Ahnuld preemptively apologizes to any women who might claim he sexually harassed them.
Symbionese Liberation Army radicals apologize to family of slaying victim Myrna Opsahl at their sentencing.

Justin Timberlake apologizes for causing Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.
George W. Bush apologizes for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

U. S. Senate apologizes for historical inaction on lynching.
Prince Harry apologizes for wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party.

Seinfeld star Michael Richards apologizes for racial rant during standup comedy show.
Rep. Cynthia McKinney apologizes for scuffling with a Capitol Hill security officer.
Senator John Kerry apologizes for “botched joke”, that soldiers in Iraq are uneducated.

Mattell apologizes to China over lead-based paint in imported toys.
Japanese Prime Minister apologizes to WWII sex slaves.

Roger Clemens apologizes for “mistakes” in personal life.
AMA apologizes to black doctors for past racism.

Singer Chris Brown apologizes to fans for assaulting girlfriend Rihanna.
U. S. Senate adopts resolution apologizing for slavery.
Kanye West apologizes for interrupting Taylor Swift’s award acceptance speech.
Tiger Woods apologizes to fans for “transgressions.”

Some milestones of the decade

* The ascension of Google from a new search engine to a near-complete internet experience in itself. Does anyone even think about about alta vista, dogpile, and lycos anymore, let alone use them?

* Wikipedia, which harnessed the aggregate power of public knowledge, for good and ill. By decade's end, its best articles were on a par with those from the Encyclopedia Britannica--because that's where many of them were originally cut 'n' pasted from. And where else could you lose an afternoon's work time, by sorting out the set lists of the Rolling Stones' 1981 tour?

* YouTube. From on-the-spot reportage in faraway places to deep archival footage which hadn't been seen in decades, YouTube was tele-democracy incarnate.

* The ouster of Cynthia McKinney. Yay! Gwinnett County voters no longer had to suffer the stigma of being represented by the cutest li'l communist in the House of Representatives.

* And the rise of the personal blog, and the challenge the best of them presented to the traditional media.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Here we go again...

Korean-American Activist Crosses Into North Korea

The most charitable explanation is that the horror-show that is North Korea sent this sensitive young man around the bend. Let's hope we don't send Bill Clinton back to kiss KJI's ring again, though.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A very Merry Christmas to all in the blogosphere

May this season find you in peace, joy, health, prosperity--or all primed to make a run at being those things in the upcoming year.

Picture from The Art Renewal Renewal Center museum

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

"For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it's your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way.

"If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well."
--Frederick Buechner

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Big name blog wars...

...bring to mind this old Neil Young song:

I hear some people
been talkin' me down,
Bring up my name,
pass it 'round.
They don't mention
happy times
They do their thing,
I'll do mine.

Ooh baby,
that's hard to change
I can't tell them
how to feel.
Some get stoned,
some get strange,
But sooner or later
it all gets real.

Walk on, walk on,
Walk on, walk on.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Free after being wrongly imprisoned for 35 years

Stories like this wrench my heart.

James Bain used a cell phone for the first time Thursday, calling his elderly mother to tell her he had been freed after 35 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Mobile devices didn't exist in 1974, the year he was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping a 9-year-old boy and raping him in a nearby field.

Neither did the sophisticated DNA testing that officials more recently used to determine he could not have been the rapist.

I'm very much a tough-on-crime type, as well as a supporter of capital punishment. So, in the interests of justice, I warmly support projects that result in freeing wrongly convicted people. The Innocence Project is perhaps the best known one.

Broadband for America rural areas

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Vice President Joe Biden is expected to announce during a visit to Georgia that the government will provide stimulus grants and loans to bring broadband to communities that have little access to the technology.

Biden was to appear at Impulse Manufacturing in Dawsonville on Thursday to announce an initial $182 million investment in 18 projects in 17 states.

The White House says the federal money has already been matched with $46 million in private capital, and that the projects will provide job opportunities in addition to helping communities held back by the lack of broadband technology.

Good. Helping to build cyber infrastructure is a wise, forward thinking move by the federal government. Can't help but contrast how connected with high-speed internet South Korea is, compared to the U.S. Sure, it helps that Korea is much smaller, with less population to wire together, but they are nonetheless streets ahead of us in internet technology. A lot of other technology, too. When you think of "clever electronic gadgets", you don't think "made in USA", do you?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Asia and race

My wife once took a computer course in Atlanta with another student who was a black Korean. She was raised in Korea, and spoke the language like the native she was. The other Koreans in the class were amazed/repulsed by her, I could tell. I wince when I think of the life she must have had, growing up in Korea.

Which leads into this interesting roundup of viewpoints of race in China.

Most earth-like exo-planet ever seen is discovered relatively nearby

It’s not exactly Earth’s twin: It’s about six times bigger, a whole lot hotter, and made mostly of water.

So, living there might be akin to living in South Florida during a heat wave, after an enormous turkey dinner.

Le mot juste

So I was watching a Korean kids' program on TV in my inlaws' house in Gwangju over Thanksgiving. It was on JEI english instructional TV. It was an english language animated show, with english subtitles for those learning the language. At one point, one of the characters said "Darn!" Apparently, whoever was writing the captions couldn't find that word in their korean-english dictionary, at least not with the appropriate meaning. So they substituted another word: "Damn!"


Monday, December 14, 2009

Video of terminally ill mother in law

Blogger just ate my original of this post, grrr. I'll try to recreate it. Hard to do once the catharsis is spent.

Apologies in advance for not sharing the video I'm discussing with you. Too private, I'm afraid.

I've been back in the States for a couple of weeks now. We went to Korea to visit my terminally ill MIL, before it's too late. Due to creeping dementia caused by an aneurysm, she doesn't even know she's sick. Fortunately she is surrounded by a large, loving family, many of whom are medical professionals. She won't lack for any comfort, physical or emotional, in her final months.

I took a lot of video of her while I was there: at family gatherings, in church, and just puttering around at home. I tried to get scenes of each of the grown children spending time with her alone, but didn't quite succeed. Hope no one feels left out. I've asked for old family photos from them too, to make a montage out of. (Costco nearly ruined the still photos I took on this trip, but that's another post.) I don't speak Korean, so I had a hard time anticipating where to point the video camera. But I hope I succeeded in capturing some good memories for the in-laws. I've only ever met Omoni (respectful Korean term for mother) on five visits. I might be the one with the only video footage of her, though; big responsibility.

There are two especially poignant scenes in the footage I've got. One is at church. All the family gathered from all over Korea to sing together. We were ostensibly singing to the congregation, to celebrate my family's visit, but we were really singing goodbye to her. As the camera pans back and forth, many singers can be seen dabbing their eyes. The actual farewell later, as we were setting off for the bus station, was anticlimatic by comparison.

The other scene was later, at Omoni's house. My two children, no longer quite so small, laid their heads in her lap, at my urging. She started patting their backs and saying "Jam-ja, jam-ja, jam-ja..." "Sleep, sleep, sleep". Just as she had done tens of thousands of times long ago with her own children, and with the grandchildren she raised, while the grown children were off pursuing their degrees and their careers. "Jam-ja, jam-ja, jam-ja..." I'm almost tearing up just typing about the sight. It will make a great coda for the finished film.


Swarms of starlings

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big name blog wars...oof!!

I've tried to stay out of them, and so far I've succeeded. I want to stay on friendly terms with as many of my favorite bloggers as I can. But lordy, the Great Dextrosphere Crackup is causing a real strain. I had to delete a comment here the other day, from someone who disapproves of the company I keep.

Dame Trot and her cat
Led a peaceable life
When they were not troubled
With other folks' strife

Baby Einstein dvd refund

When you're doing your Christmas shopping, don't forget to give yourself some extra folding money by sending in your old Baby Einstein dvds for a refund. Details here.

In retrospect, it was pretty silly. TV is a bad babysitter, how could having your baby stare at blinking pixels do anything good?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus

I heard on the radio that on this date in 1968, the superstar concert known as the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus began. The project was filmed but not released until 1996. The music's good, though the circus bits are expendable. See:

How can you not love Taj Mahal in a cowboy suit?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Funny hell, boring heaven

One of my Korean brothers-in-law is a prominent surgeon, who spent a couple of years in the American Midwest. He said that the difference between Korea and America was that Korea was a "funny hell", and America was a "boring heaven". Korea is too crowded, not enough space, etc., but if you are wealthy you can carve out a very nice sphere to live in there. By contrast, he found the city in the cornfields he was doing an exchange residency in to be dull, creature comforts and abundant space notwithstanding.

If he ever comes back and resides in one of the coastal metropolises, I'm sure he'll change his mind.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Good visit with Omoni

As oftentimes happens with the terminally ill, my MIL is on an uptick this week, and is able to enjoy our visit. It's wonderfull, seeing our children make her old heart so merry and glad, just by their presence. I've been trying to explain this to the kids, how grandchildren have a special gift to make grandparents glad, simply by showing up. The children are pretty grumpy at times, wanting to leave and go play computers games, but I make them stay and sit with halmoni for a decent interval. I keep telling them that later they will be happy that they were able to make their Korean grandmother glad. They don't see it now, but they will understand later, in the fullness of time. Especially when they see the videotape of her laughing over them, squeezing their hands, and caressing their faces. Sorry, but for privacy I won't be posting the vids online.

My MIL is an educated woman, but she put in a lifetime of sacrifice to put her daughters and son through higher education and enabling them to become prominent professionals in their respective fields. It's very lucky that her twilight days are spent surrounded by grateful and attentive children--and, from time to time, cute as a button American grandchildren.

Fashionable Korea

I'm in Gwangju at the moment, near Chonnam National University. While my wife is visiting her mother and sisters, I've been out strolling the grounds of the nearby university. The students are sleek and fashionable, mostly dressed in black. It's uncanny what a strong hold fashion has on them: the same Beatles mop haircuts for the boys, the same black clothes, cut in an assortment of hot fashions, the same rectangular tortoise-shell eyeglasses. It's wrong to say so, but I can barely tell these kids apart, and I'm glad I don't have to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stimulus job boost in Massachussets exaggerated

While Massachusetts recipients of federal stimulus money collectively report 12,374 jobs saved or created, a Globe review shows that number is wildly exaggerated. Organizations that received stimulus money miscounted jobs, filed erroneous figures, or claimed jobs for work that has not yet started.

And I doubt that the Bay State is altogether unique in this regard. It's hard to create a solid foundation for economic growth when your political philosophy views money as just something to be flung with both hands from the back of a speeding bus.

Via Viking Pundit

School will stop fundraiser that sells higher grades

That pots-&-pans crashing racket you hear is the sound of a school districk suddenly coming to its senses.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bing now a serious challenger to Google

So it says in this PC World article. However, the only time I see a Bing search show up in my sitemeter is when someone is using it to look for gay porn. Sorry, pervs: the only thing you're going to find here are these old blog posts of mine.

Of course, I've probably just attracted more unwelcome attention to myself. But if Bing is so smart, maybe it'll direct the rough trade traffic elsewhere, after I post this.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Life is a long song

Well, the sad news has finally come around. My mother-in-law is terminally ill, so we're flying back to Korea to see her before it's too late. This lovely rendition of this lovely song seems appropriate. Last time I was in Korea the in-laws surprised me by asking me to sing. I blanked, and managed to croak a few words of The Beatles' "In My Life". If they ask me again this time, I'll offer this:

When you're falling awake and you take stock of the new day,
And you hear your voice croak as you choke on what you need to say,
Well, don't you fret, don't you fear,
I will give you good cheer.

Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.

If you wait then your plate I will fill.

As the verses unfold and your soul suffers the long day,
And the twelve o'clock gloom spins the room,
You struggle on your way.
Well, don't you sigh, don't you cry,
Lick the dust from your eye.

Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.

We will meet in the sweet light of dawn.

As the Baker Street train spills your pain all over your new dress,
And the symphony sounds underground put you under duress,
Well don't you squeal as the heel grinds you under the wheel.

Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.
Life's a long song.

But the tune ends too soon for us all.

Now this is inspired!

I enjoy Glenn Beck's radio show in moderation, haven't seen much of the TV show. But this satire will forever color it for me from now on. I love impressions, and this is just great.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The 11/3 Project
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Islamic Creationism

The phenomenon has raised concerns among scientists and educators - especially those in Muslim countries and in countries with growing Muslim minorities - who see in it a threat to scientific literacy, a drag on the potential for Muslim countries to build up their languishing scientific research sectors, and as another flashpoint in the Muslim world’s long-running struggle between religion and secularism. Unlike in the West, creationist beliefs are not associated in the Muslim world with religious fundamentalism, but instead are often espoused by members of the mainstream intellectual elite - liberals, by their own lights, who see the expansive, scientific-sounding claims of creationism as tracing a middle way between the guidance of religion and the promise of modern science. Critics of the movement fear that this makes it more likely that creationism will find its way into policies there, especially when the theory of evolution is portrayed among Muslim thinkers, as it often is, as an instrument of Western intellectual hegemony.

Cue Han Solo: "I got a bad feeling about this..."

How to be a good K-blogger

Ex-pat blogger Roboseyo has some good advice on better blogging. It's geared towards K-blogging, but a lot of the more general tips are well worth heeding. In fact, I think I will try to heed them. My health problems are in abeyance, and things are going better at work. So, maybe I can try to make this blog more worth looking in on, from time to time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Daily Show goes to Iran

Jon Stewart's crew went to Iran and didn't get eaten alive, therefore Iran is just a misunderstood victim of the U.S. propaganda machine. Wonder if the hipper-than-thou jerks spoke with any of these Iranians?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Random Korea reflections, 8

I was hiking in the brushy hills behind my sister-in-law's luxury condo in Gwangju. It was hot, I was sweaty, and when I came to a clearing with a small playground, I found a bench away from the other people there and sat, panting, and staring at the ground. Soon, I noticed a small commotion on the ground a little distance away. Something white and something black were rolling around. It was a white spider, and a wasp attempting to capture it, to feed to its larva. It looked very much like this:

They tussled, and the spider broke free and made a run for it. The wasp took flight, acquired the target with its large compound eyes, and pounced again. They rolled into a clench again, until the wasp managed to ram its stinger home. The spider, on its back, unclenched its legs, like a fist slowly opening. The wasp scooted around the inert spider, in that abrupt way insects have, and stung it again for good measure. Or maybe it was laying its egg inside, I don't know. It started to drag the spider up a blade of grass, and seemed to dither quite a bit doing that. So, I got up and headed back the way I came.

I don't know why this little scene has stayed with me so long, other than because I've always loved nature. And I think wasps are superb little predators.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finally took the plunge...

I finally, after all the decades of being on my anti-television high horse, have signed up for cable TV. Yes, I am now actually paying real money to watch television. I pick up about 20 broadcast channels--in high definition, nowadays--but now I am paying to view the same channels and a couple of dozen others, most of which I will never tune in to.

So what made me do this? Why, it's for the children, of course. Mine are too old for PBS kids stuff anymore, and there aren't any shows for their age on broadcast TV, to speak of. It's not like when I was growing up, when I could watch Saturday morning cartoons, and also the Three Stooges on weekdays before school. All that stuff has decamped to pay TV.

So, out of consideration of my kids' need to have a reasonable grounding in American youth culture, I've shelled out for them to watch Nick, Cartoon Network, and Disney. Now they won't feel like little foreigners when their friends are talking about what happened on Total Drama Island yesterday. And I confess: I would have been a big fan of Spongebob Squarepants if it had been on when I was a kid. If I'm lucky, I might get to watch the History Channel from time to time, after they go to bed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Philadelphia Library to close?

Well, this is drastic. It sounds like they're trying to force the state's hand, like the National Park Service closing the Washington Monument when they're threatened with budget cuts.

And when did Philadelphia become such a blighted slum?

Philly has an amazing number of poorly-educated adults. Sadly 22 percent of the 1.1 million adults who live here don't even have basic literacy skills. Almost 400,000 adults have not earned a high school diploma.

Who sucked the spirit and vision out of all those people?

Update: looks like they're going to escape the ax after all. Whew!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trapped Chinese Miners

Every so often I'll search "trapped miners" in Google's news aggregator. It always comes back with stories about trapped Chinese miners. Shows how much the worker's paradise cares about the workers....

Update: An explosion at an illegal coal mine killed 35 miners in central China’s Henan province Tuesday and left another 44 men trapped, the government said.

*Illegal* coal mine? How'd that happen?

14 Cows For America

NPR had a heartwarming segment this morning, about that Masai tribe which donated cattled to the U.S. after 9/11: 14 Cows For America. I had forgotten about that act of friendship, and how touched I was by it at the time.

(Picture swiped from )

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Random Korea reflections, 7

One enduring image of Korean traffic is of the scooters. They come out of nowhere, zip between cars and between pedestrians on the sidewalk, and ignore traffic lights. And if there's a girl in back, she's riding sidesaddle.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weather idiots

What kind of idiots bring their seven year old child to the rocky coast to watch a hurricane, as if they're visiting the effin' IMAX or something? These kind of idiots.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Well, that didn't take long...

...At work we're back to our old pattern of back-stabbing office politics. I had to pop tranquilizers yesterday and today. I'm dealing with some difficult subordinates, and they are determined to make trouble for me in retribution. Ugghhh... Memories of my Korea trip are still sustaining me, though. Plus, I got on a workable exercise and diet plan, and have lost ten of the twenty-five pounds I would like to lose by next summer. So, there's that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 6

I've been following a number of blogs by expats in Korea since I got back. Many of them go on about the rudeness or at least tactlessness of the Koreans they meet. I guess I have to count myself lucky, since I encountered almost nothing of that sort myself. I drew a few stares, but--so I reasoned--it was because I turned up in residential areas, in a city where foreigners are not so common as in Seoul and Busan. Plus, I usually had my children in tow, who are cute enough to make you mess your britches.

Early some mornings I went out of the house we were staying in, down the winding residential street, to a small playground, where I let the kids play. From time to time people would cut through the playground, and give us a long look. But there were not a few smiles from the ajummas too, as they took in the sight of the giant foreigner appa pushing the kids on the swingset.

One morning an ajumma was sitting in the gazebo where I usually sit, so I sat down beside her. I offered her one of my water bottles, which she refused. She gestured at the kids on the monkeybars and said something. I had no idea, so I just replied, "Hankook umma, Migook appa." Korean mother, American father. She tried to talk with me some more, leaving me increasingly embarrassed, when the kids came over asking to go back to the house. I rose and bowed to her, and she to me, and parted ways.

Actually, I think the longest stare I got the whole trip was from a white women, whom I passed when leaving a Dunkin Donuts.

Random Korea Reflections, 5

Those of you who've read this blog for a while, and have the gift of reading between the lines, probably can guess that I've had a really tough time this past couple of years. This trip to Korea was quite a restorative, for which I'm most grateful.

Seeing the sights and spending time with my wife's wonderful family for a month was enough of a treat. Yet, there were a few other incidents which stuck with me, too. I was told that one brother-in-law, a professor, had been praying for me for months. He found out which way America was, and prayed intently in that direction, for my benefit. Who wouldn't be touched?

And one evening one sister took us to a little storefront church in a humble little neighborhood. We climbed the stairs to the sanctuary, simultaneously small, cute, calm, and welcoming, and there met the moksanim, the pastor. He was a small man, with a luminously kind face. He chatted with my wife and her sister in Korean, he having no English, then prayed over me at length, again in Korean. He then spoke to my wife for about twenty minutes, while I tried to keep control of the fidgety kids. Finally we thanked him, and then left.

Later, I asked my wife who that pastor was, and why we had visited him. She gave me a disgusted look, as she does whenever I've forgotten something that she told me months earlier. She reminded me that this was a pastor that my wife's sister admired, and who had been praying for me the whole previous year. I had completely forgotten about that, and was sorry that I didn't thank him for it. But I won't forget the blessing his kindness imparted to me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Young woman under sentence of death... honor killing. Watch the whole thing.

Random Korea reflections, 4

I went to a small Presbyterian church four times while we were in Gwangju. The service was very much along the same lines as what I was used to in the U.S. Singing, prayer, scripture reading, sermon, etc. The sermon seemed longer than in America, no doubt because I couldn't understand it! They served lunch downstairs afterwards, Korean food of course, except for one time when they served curry. Most of my in-laws are very devout, so we had devotions in their homes on occasion, too. When I was in Seoul, I paused to snap a pic of these street preachers in Myeongdung shopping district.

Random Korea Reflections, 3

Most of the people I stayed with were well off, living in luxury homes. Even those that had humbler homes were still comfortable. And most Koreans I saw on the street were well-dressed. So it was a little jarring to see visible poverty, though of course I knew that poverty is present in every society. Some images:

*An old, stooped woman, too poor to indulge in the elderly Koreans' vain custom of dyeing her hair black, rummaging through a wad of plastic and trash on the sidewalk, searching for recyclables.

*An old man in an alley, wincing in arthritic pain as he hoists the handles of his wagon, which he will pull through the streets in search of recyclable cardboard.

*An ajumma in Jeju Island, standing on the sidewalk and bowing to the traffic, trying to drum up business for her restaurant.

But one thing that was different from Atlanta is that, in Korea, I saw only two actual beggars, who were handicapped. I encountered no able-bodied aggressive panhandlers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 2

Much of what I saw of Korea was through car, bus, and train windows. Even though I couldn't read the signs, I usually stared at the shops as we were being driven through the city. I also liked to people watch. One brother-in-law remarked that all foreigners loved to look at all the signs when they first came to Korea. I allowed as how that was true of me, too, even after a month. From the first day to the last, watching the flood of images stream past the passenger window, watching the people and scenes, was almost as fulfilling to me as going to the "official" sights.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Random Korea Reflections, 1

How generous are my wife's family? This generous: One brother-in-law put my name on his auto insurance, and offered me the use of his car while I was staying with him--he'd take a taxi to work and back. I declined, of course, of necessity as well as courtesy. The streets were too narrow and the traffic was too wild for me to navigate. In America we can turn right on red, but in Korea they go straight on red. Plus, I couldn't read the signs, and would have gotten lost immediately.

And this generous: Another set of in-laws were moving into a new home, a luxury condo in a hi-rise, at the same time we were there. They hurried up to move in, more so than they should have, so that we would be comfortable. The big bed, the hiking trail on the mountain in back, and so on, were partially chosen with me in mind, they said. That was beyond generous and verging on ridiculous, to my mind--but I was no less appreciative.

This generous: My kids couldn't turn around without someone giving them an ice cream cone. I already mentioned how another brother-in-law put us up in a 6-star hotel in Seoul, and gave us a lot of money to go see the sights. And how still another set of in-laws booked us into a beachfront condo on Jeju Island's gorgeous south shore. They treated us to meals at fine restaurants several times weekly. One of them bought some expensive Oriental medicine for me. I don't believe in the principles of Qi and such, but I drink the foul stuff twice daily anyway, because the love that went into its making is as strong as whatever medicinal powers it's supposed to have.

And on our last day, we had to take the overnight bus from Gwangju to Incheon airport, there to catch the plane for home. Several of them turned out at 3:00am to see us off at the bus station, after having dined with us just a few hours previously. What a family...

In return, I've managed to find small ways to help them over the years. I'm an American and a native English speaker, which comes in handy from time to time. One nephew is studying in the U.S. at the moment, and our home is his American home--his parents are grateful for that. I only hope that more of them can come visit in the years to come.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

It's been two weeks since I returned from Korea...

...and I'm still beaming. We traveled to Korea to visit my wife's family in Gwangju, and traveled around sight-seeing and meeting people. Her family really killed the fatted calf for us, I must say. They are mostly upper-class, church-going medical professionals, and they paid for us to go stay in a 6-star hotel in Seoul, and to a beachfront condo on Jeju Island. They welcomed us into their homes, in turns, and doted on us to the point that I could barely phrase my thanks. I'm an American southerner, so I like to think I know something about courtesy and hospitality, but these people were just on a whole higher level. Since I returned, I've been surfing the blogs of foreigners living in Korea. Many of them spin tales of how rude Koreans are, how dull the attractions are. Well, as to the latter, I'm no seasoned traveler, being more of a homebody. Korea is the only east Asian country I've ever been to, so I don't compare the sights with China or Japan. (Plus, I have a pre-existing interest, as my father was in Korea during the war.) And to the former, I can only wish the resident foreigners to have contact with people beyond their school co-workers, restaurant ajummas, jostling strangers on the public transportation, and club pickups.

I'd love to share some family pictures of these wonderful people with you, know...privacy and all that. You never know who's looking. You can see some generic vacation pics at my photo blog.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Back from Korea

I got back from a four week trip to Korea, visiting my wife's family. I'll have some bloggage and pictures up later. I can tell you now that it was a real adventure, a wonderful morale booster. I feel like a new man, and I hope I can keep the good vibes going. What a wonderful family she has...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Serendipity fun with Snopes

Go to

Enter your year of birth in the search box.

Pick an urban legend from the year you were born!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


These recent shootings, of abortionist George Tiller and those two Army recruiters, along with the horrors that the Taliban is inflicting in Pakistan, bring to mind this R. A. Lafferty quote on fanaticism. It's from And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire

How is a person or a world unmade or unformed? First, by being deformed. And following the deforming is the collapsing. The tenuous balance is broken. Insanity is induced easily under the name of the higher sanity. Then the little candle that is in each head is blown out on the pretext that the great cosmic light can better be seen without it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Up, the movie

Took my two kids to see Up this evening. Surprisingly touching, with the old folks backstory. Plenty of thrills and laughs, though maybe not so much for girls as for boys. The roly-poly little Asian kid is sweet. And no liberal indoctrination, as in Monsters Vs Aliens. It's a winner!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nork Nuance

I can't find a link online, but this afternoon I was listening to All Things Considered on NPR. They gave a disgusting bit of "backstory" on why North Korea is building nukes: it's because the U.S. bombed North Korea in the Korean War. Old habits die hard: during the Cold War the Left had the same excuse for every instance of communist malfeasance: the big bad Americans made them kill and oppress all those people, and breach all those treaties. Nevermind that the North Korean regime is a horror show unlike any other regime on earth. To be non-white, foreign, and angry at America is to be in the right by definition.

"Peer-refused science"

Tim Blair gets into it with a commenter who deploys the term "peer-refused science". It's in the context of the global warming debate, but it strikes me that it is a bulls-eye description of creationist "research".

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Poor Texas...

It's like Groundhog Day over and over, having to fight off this particular creationist from the Texas Board of Education. I hope all this hoopla doesn't stir up the creationists in my area. We were the ones with the disclaimer stickers in the biology textbooks a few years back, you may remember. I blogged about it here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More astronomy wonders on the way

While the Hubble Space Telescope is getting repaired, the Europeans are launching what's described as the largest telescope ever into space (I wonder if they mean the largest space telescope?) Can't wait for the pix...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A delicate way of putting it...

I'm reading an article about cities and their affordability/liveability, and noticed this sentence:

Similarly, the close-in communities of the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles are home to large contingents of entertainment industry workers, many of them self-employed.

Thanks to a book I read by essayist Mike Sager, I recognize these self-employed entertainment industry workers in the San Fernando Valley as aspiring actors. Very tactful turn of phrase...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Photos to drive 9/11 Truthers nuts

Via Discarded Lies, this is a photo essay neatly debunking a number of troofer claims. Won't do any good, of course, but it's nice to see someone take the time to refute them.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wishful thinking

How often we settle for wishing over doing:

For in general mortals have a great power of being astonished at the presence of an effect towards which they have done everything, and at the absence of an effect towards which they have done nothing but desire it. Parents are astonished at the ignorance of their sons, though they have used the most time-honoured and expensive means of securing it; husbands and wives are mutually astonished at the loss of affection which they have taken no pains to keep; and all of us in our turn are apt to be astonished that our neighbours do not admire us. In this way it happens that the truth seems highly improbable. The truth is something different from the habitual lazy combinations begotten by our wishes.
-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876

The complete idiot's guide to Pakistan

This handy guide to who's who and what's what in Pakistan is most illluminating. What a snakepit, politically speaking, that country is.

Fratricide in Baghdad

I'm reading Thomas Ricks' The Gamble right now, and so can't help what a feat it is for our military to have drawn down the violence in Iraq as much as they have. But this news of a "stressed-out" American soldier turning his gun on his comrades is a horrifying reminder that this is still a war, and war is still hell.

Leonard Nimoy interview

I used to be a Trekkie when I was in grade school, so this interview with Leonard Nimoy brought back some memories.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The hazel wand of chance...

Love this quote:

The universe is supremely complicated to the point that chance can be a practical explanation, if not an ultimate one. Was it chance that sent an asteroid smashing into the Earth 65 million years ago, redirecting the course of reptile and mammal evolution? It's as good a word as "God did it," and conveys exactly as much information. The difference is that "chance" is open to ever deeper investigation, whereas "God did it" is a closed door.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All Edges Gilt is back

I replaced my scanner, which was not compatible with Windows Vista, and have started scanning vintage book illustrations again. I invite you to browse the images here. Be sure to click on the images for the larger view.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Love across the racial barrier

One of my favorite searches is to go spelunking in Google's news archive. Here's a story I found by keyword searching "negress". It's from The New York Times, in 1911. Heartwrenching...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Deterrent? A deterrent for what?

In the course of reviewing Michael Quinlan's Thinking About Nuclear Weapons, this Times Of London article includes a paragraph which caught my eye:

It is laughable to suggest that, for instance, unilateral British nuclear disarmament would persuade others to follow our virtuous example. Israelis and Pakistanis, and for that matter Iranians, want ultimate deterrents for their own reasons.

Of those three nations, Iran is the only one which does not seek a nuclear "deterrent". Their avowed aim (as the article goes on to state) is not deterrence, but offensive capability, to wipe out the Jews from the Middle East. Indeed, some commentators have claimed that the threat of nuclear retaliation does not scare the mullahs, as it would only amount to a martyrdom which they actively seek, even if only for their own hapless subjects.

Stay tuned

I'm tapering off my anti-depressants. As my highs and lows return, this blog may become more interesting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crocs on the way out?

Another clothing fad that I don't have to bother keeping up with, mercifully. Sic transit gloria mundi.

They shall beat their assault rifles into art

I love stories like this. Iraqi art students are turning old munitions into art:

The former Iraqi army soldier approached the students last year and agreed to provide them with a place to work as well as supplies of scrap metal from destroyed Chinese and Russian AK-47s, mortar tubes and grenade launchers.

"These weapons for killing people — I wanted to change them into symbols of love, freedom and life," says the former mine specialist.

"These destroyed guns have a message for all people, that art can bring peace," he adds.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

An unreported cause of poverty

So I was watching The News Hour on PBS tonight, and they had a segment on the working poor. The person they selected was a woman named Scharf (I forget the first name, sorry) who was running to stand still, financially. The segment ticked off a number of misfortunes she was faced with, and how tough it was for her. One cause of her straits that was mentioned but not analyzed was probably the biggest one: she is a single mother. Single motherhood is a sure ticket to financial struggles in America, documented umpty times over, yet there was no discussion of it in Ms. Scharf's case. That would be too insensitive, and also violate the liberal precept that single parenthood is simply one lifestyle choice among many, none better or worse than another.

Monsters vs Aliens

I took my kids to see Monsters vs Aliens today, and while it was fun and everything, I was struck by how many cliches it packed in. The male lead was a heel; the villain had a British accent; the female lead needed men like a fish needs a bicycle; there were unsubtle digs at George W. Bush and the war on terror; and a jarringly overt global warming reference. All aimed at kids, the better to indoctrinate them into liberal orthodoxy, apparently. Except for the bit about the British accent, I suppose. Britain isn't politically incorrect, SFAIK.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I threw my back out today, in a way I've never even heard of before. I didn't lift anything, nor bend awkwardly. I was sitting in my chair, turned just so, and hiccuped violently. The spasm cramped a back muscle, ow!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Spider Bike

So I was up at my sister's house this past weekend, and noticed that they had brought my old spider bike up from the old homestead. I'm guessing that my brother-in-law will fix it up for my nephews' enjoyment. The paint is faded, the chrome is blistering off, and the tires are decayed. But I remember when I first got it, how the neighborhood kids reacted. "That ain't nothin'!" "Yes it is!" I rode that bike for what seemed like many long years, until I graduated to a ten-speed. I'd ride up and down the hills of my street, over the neighbors' lawns, hopping over bumps, zooming down driveways, whipping that spider bike up against its envelope. Other times I'd ride across our small town to the drug store, to buy candy, and grip it in a couple of fingers as I steered with the others.

Although I don't bike anymore, I still have a child's eye for terrain. My commute takes me along a surface street that goes on a long, gentle incline. The sidewalk beside it is just the sort of bike path I would have loved as a kid. The downhill run would be great for building up speed, and there would be a couple of good bounces from the rises along the way. I can picture myself negotiating the smart zig-zag at the bottom of the hill, banking across the intersection via the cutaways, then standing on the pedals as I glide to a stop as the sidewalk ends. That was all more than one hundred pounds ago, but I can still imagine it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Protein Wisdom taken down?

Jeff Goldstein's blog Protein Wisdom, where most of my best guest-bloggage over the past couple of years has appeared, is gone this evening. I'll certainly miss it if it's been taken down for good.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do multiple Earths equate to multiple civilizations?

If [the planets] be inhabited, what a scope for folly; if they be not inhabited, what a waste of space. -- Thomas Carlyle

This is exciting and all, to think that there may be other Earths in the millions out there someplace. Yet I think most of the analysis of this possibility is incomplete.

In order for life as we now know it to arise, there need to be certain conditions. A moderate sized yellow sun, for one: a small red sun would grip a planet in tidal lock, and a giant white or blue sun wouldn't live long enough for life to evolve. A small rocky planet with liquid water at or near the surface--although extremophiliac life might exist under harsher conditions. And then possibly a disproportionately large satellite along with tides, oxygen and or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and etc.

And then life has to evolve, onwards from unicellular and acellular life, into multicellular life of increasing complexity and sophistication. There is probably nothing automatic about this. Fast, torpedo-shaped sea creatures have evolved any number of times: ichthysaurs, tuna, marlins, orcas, but sentient primates with binocular vision and opposable thumbs have come along very rarely. Indeed, we seem to be the last of only a handful of such creatures ever to arise.

Most analyses I've seen stop here, but it seems to me that there are further improbabilities to be overcome. The rise of intelligent life doesn't mean the rise of civilization, or even technology. What if intelligent life on another world never got beyond the hunter/gatherer stage, or the agricultural stage. What if the industrial revolution never happened? Or more frustratingly, what if the aliens were like certain civilizations here, which did not lack knowhow, but did lack curiosity.

Of course, it could be that Earth is the exception, and that advanced technological civilizations are the rule elsewhere in the cosmos. But given the chain of improbabilities that have led from the primordial scum to our present state, it's fairly easy to to doubt that anyone Out There is listening to our call.

As Tallyrand said back in the 18th century...

Russia is never as strong as it looks, and Russia is never as weak as it looks.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Persistant problems at work

Bleagh. Just bleagh. I'm so crossed up at work I don't even know how to act anymore. I manage a small staff, some of whom can't seem to get alone with one another. I can't conciliate them. I'm not hard-nosed enough--too wimpy, I guess--and the lack of strong leadership from me leads to trouble for everyone. I've had to go on anti-depressants just to take the edge off, to keep functioning. I've got another pie in the face scheduled for this coming week; wish me luck, okay?


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Millard Fuller, RIP

Today's news brings tidings of the sudden passing of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. I was a HFH volunteer in the mid-80s, and met him frequently. His faith and enthusiasm were inspiring, as the growth of Habitat over the years attests.

The special thing about Habitat was that its mission appealed to just about anyone. Fundamentalists? Chapter and verse can be cited about helping the poor. Conservatives? No involvement from the government, at least before the "faith-based initiave" era. Libertarians? Habitat was self-help in the best sense, as the houses were paid for by the homeowners (it's just that no interest is charged on the loan). Liberals? The volunteers are a rainbow of ordinary people doing extraordinary things: church groups, students, retirees, various questers at loose ends. Secularists? Come on aboard; we won't bite you!

And most importantly, Habitat works. The default rate is very low, and for years was non-existence. The recipients are invested in results. "Sweat equity" truly gives people a hand up, not a hand out.

For a while I worked in a warehouse, where donated plumbing supplies were stored. It was good quality stuff, and I still smile to think: the owner of a Habitat house in that area probably had better bathroom fixtures than their former slumlord did. I still smile to think how perfectly my spell with Habitat intersected my life. I was young and open-hearted, the perfect age and attitude to reap the blessings that giving brings, that being part of a wonderful cause greater than oneself brings. It's been a long road since then, but the inevitable shimmer of nostalgia adds nothing to the genuine benefit I received from my time there. And it was because of one man and his "theology of the hammer."

Without vision the people perish


Thursday, January 22, 2009

From the "catch 'em being good" file

A couple of light workers in the French Islamic community. God bless them for their efforts at bringing peace about.

A fragile cease-fire has silenced the violence in Gaza, but a continent away, a Muslim prayer leader known for reaching out to France's Jews is facing death threats.

Hassen Chalghoumi is one of the most visible victims of the raw friction between French Jews and Muslims, and among the best poised to help heal the wounds between the two faiths.

France is home to western Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, with 600,000 Jews and an estimated 5 million Muslims. Anti-Semitic attacks have soared in France after Israel opened its Dec. 27 offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The Tunisian-born Chalghoumi, 35, has found himself caught in the middle. His car had oil poured on it. He has received anonymous death threats on his cell phone. His house is now under police watch and he is shadowed by a bodyguard.


As Israel rained bombs on Gaza and anti-Semitic attacks hop-scotched across Europe this month, Hakima Milati worked the phones, inviting Jewish and Muslim women to visit the main mosque and synagogue in the eastern central city of Lyon.

It didn't take long to book the 60 places available for the event, which included a Kosher meal, said Milati, a Muslim. "I've had to turn people away." [...]

"What I realized was that women could still construct something together when it came to artistic and cultural things," said Derczansky. "It was on that basis that I told myself that I had to disconnect women in France from their differences over the Middle East and connect them with things that brought the two sides together."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

So long to this non-Catholic's most beloved padre, Richard John Neuhaus. There's a brief notice up at First Things, though I trust fuller encomia will not be long forthcoming. For passersby who don't know, RJN was a Lutheran civil rights and anti-war activist in the 1960s, who landed in the conservative camp when the former two causes went over the falls into leftist radicalism.

I first encountered Father Neuhaus in the pages of The Wittenburg Door, sort of a Christian version of MAD Magazine, in the 1980s. Some years later I discovered First Things, the conservative Catholic journal he founded, and was taken with the many insightful offerings therein. In 2005 I started this blog as a running commentary on the journal. I quickly discovered that I didn't have the intellect nor temperment to keep up with Neuhaus or his editorial staff, but I still pen the occasional fan's piece. Like Paul Harvey says, someone will take his job, but no one will take his place. Have some quotes:

The problem, of course, is that neither [church nor state] is prepared to remain within its institutional boundaries. Government, if it is to be sustainable, engages beliefs and loyalties of an ultimate sort that can properly be called religious. As the impulse of the modern state is to define all public space as governmental space, so the consequence is a tendency toward "civil religion." Religion, on the other hand, if it represents a comprehensive belief system, speaks to the human condition in all its aspects, including the right ordering (the government) of public life....Thus each institution is, in the eyes of the other, constantly bursting its bounds. Therein is the foundation of the open-ended argument between church and state. Open-ended, that is, so long as a society professes to be democratic.

It is one of the less charming oddities of our time that, in many circles, atheism, or at least a declared agnosticism, is assumed to be the default position of disinterested ethical discourse. As though proceeding from the assumption that there is no God is less consequential than assuming that there is.

The socialist revisionists we will have always with us, for the desire becomes more demanding as the prospect of its satisfaction recedes. The idea, like a bird, escapes all the closing traps of historical fact. There must be, they insist, an alternative to this-to the paltry, striving, bourgeois, thus and so ness of democratic capitalism. There simply must be. And there is of course. But those who do not know the alternative of a new heaven and new earth of ultimate promise have no choice but to cling ever more desperately to socialism as the name of their desire.

Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion.